The Bay Area obviously has an outstanding food scene. It’s a culinary mecca, loaded with Michelin star restaurants where foodies can fork over hundreds of dollars to taste refined dishes prepared by celebrity chefs.
But if white tablecloths and speaking in hushed voices isn’t your thing, you’re not alone. The trend of outdoor dining, which really took off in 2019 due to COVID, has continued to grow and evolve. Now, thanks to a slew of trailblazing farms, high-end resorts, and creative chefs, diners are kicking off their shoes and digging their feet (literally) into the dirt for a new kind of fine dining experience.
This is really no surprise. Whether we’re talking about electric cars, smart phones, or an emphasis on fresh and local ingredients, California has spawned many a revolution. So here are some of the not-to-miss spots where you can grab a seat for the next culinary movement.
A harvest dinner at Stanly Ranch.
(Courtesy of Auberge Resort Collection)
Located on the southern edge of Napa Valley and surrounded by rolling hills, Stanly Ranch (part of the Auberge Resort Collection) is an impressive property sprawled across 700 pristine acres. Among its many amenities is a large chef’s garden where farm director Nick Runkle hosts the ranch’s series of harvest dinners—four ticketed dinners and 37 private garden meals in the past year.
“I believe people enjoy connecting with the source of their food and savoring its freshness,” says Runkle. “There's no more authentic way to achieve this than by harvesting ingredients on the very same day and enjoying a meal in the garden or on the farm where they were grown.”
The menus are always inspired by what is growing and being harvested in the garden, which varies widely depending on the season. Themes have included edible flowers, where the dinner was carefully scheduled to coincide with the early days of summer when an abundance of calendula, marigolds, violas, and borage were in full bloom. The fall meal, coming up on November 5th, is all about squash. Diners will get to explore some lesser-known varieties such as red kuri, koginut, and honeynut. Every meal harkens back to nature, with twinkling garden lights, plates of vibrant veggies, and the rhythmic hum of crickets serenading in the background.
If you miss out on the fall meal, don’t fret. Another series of six dinners is already being planned for next year.
// For more information and to make reservations ($275 per person) visit aubergeresorts.com .
Outstanding in the Field
A real culinary outlier, chef Jim Denevan founded Outstanding in the Field back in 1999 when he hosted a dinner on his brother’s farm. The company’s culinary caravan now stretches across all 50 states and 24 countries around the globe, with tables set in farms, beaches, vineyards, and meadows.
“We aim to connect diners to the origins of their food, while celebrating the hardworking hands that feed us: chefs, farmers, fisherpeople, cheesemakers, vintners,” says Denevan.
With 15 events over the next two months, and approximately 115 events per year (many of which are already sold out), Denevan and his team are clearly succeeding. Upcoming dinners include locations and themes like Secret Cove in Pescadero, where diners will sit on the beach and munch on mussels with saffron aioli with crashing waves as a backdrop. If you’re more of a steak and potatoes person, you can saddle up for a meat and wine dinner in Sonoma at Richardson Ranch , a historic timber and cattle ranch that is rarely open to the public. For this meal, Shelley Lindgren, known for her phenomenal wine program at A16 , will be pouring some special wines, while chefs Yosuke Machida and Charlie Guyard handle an unforgettable menu.
Starting in December, Outstanding in the Field takes it down to Mexico, Hawaii, and other warmer locales.
// For more information and tickets (starting at $375 per person), visit outstandinginthefield.com .
Best known for the EVOO it produces on its 550-acre farm in Petaluma, McEvoy Ranch is also gaining a reputation for its farm-to-table dinners, which they host several times a year for more than 150 guests. You’d think there’d be plenty of space at the table, but dinners often sell out well in advance. Why?
“It’s the same reason farmers markets are so popular. People want to experience where their food comes from and engage in the fresh, quality atmosphere," says marketing manager Alix Celestino. "Plus, it’s so much more than a dinner, it’s a complete experience from start to finish, surrounded by your local community and olive orchards.”
On October 28th, McEvoy will team up with Hog Island Oyster Co. to celebrate the new cookbook, The Hog Island Book of Fish and Seafood, serving recipes from the book alongside McEvoy wines. Though the event is already sold out, you can try your luck by joining the waitlist .
// Look out for 2024 events at McEvoy Ranch at mcevoyranch.com .
More notable spots for a memorable farm dining experience include Full Belly Farm , which hosts monthly dinners from March to November in the hills of the Capay Valley; and Avery on the Farm , a project of Avery restaurant chef Rodney Wages to showcase the farms, vintners, and purveyors he has worked with over the years.